Baked into the Idaho Falls Chukars’ 2016 opening day roster was a piece of history.
Idaho Falls’ initial roster features zero players selected in the most recent MLB draft, the first time that’s happened since the team became a Kansas City Royals’ affiliate in 2004, according the Chukars general manager Kevin Greene.
Timing contributed heaviest to I.F.’s unique group of 27 players, who graced Melaleuca Field for their first workout Tuesday night. But the current roster will change throughout the season, and some of the 2016 draftees will likely don Chukars uniforms this summer.
“It’s not like we’re getting rejects or anything,” Greene said. “There are players here who have earned the right to come back into this organization for second or third years.”
The Chukars’ previous 11 seasons as a Kansas City affiliate started at least seven days after the MLB draft concluded. That week-plus gave the Royals time to sign their draftees, put them through the post-draft process and assign them to their respective minor league teams.
This year was different. The draft ended on Saturday, a mere five days before the Chukars’ exhibition game against the Idaho Falls Bandits. Kansas City’s other Rookie-level team, the Burlington Royals, doesn’t begin its season until next week. Same goes for the Arizona League Royals, Kansas City’s third short-season team. So the most logical decision for Kansas City’s front office was to assign its recently signed rookies to Burlington and Arizona.
“It takes time to get those players signed and get them into the organization and just go through the process of preparing them for the season,” said Ronnie Richardson, Kansas City’s director of minor league operations. “They’re drafted on the 11th. To expect them to be (in I.F.) playing games on the 16th is not quite realistic.”
Richardson said Kansas City has to evaluate its recent draft class before it can decide to send any of those 40 players to I.F. But Greene was confident that his team would receive some 2016 draftees this season, and sooner than later. Either way, he and Chukars manager Justin Gemoll are pleased with the current roster.
“I’m happy because all of these guys were in extended (spring training),” Gemoll said. “They’re familiar with each other. It’s just a matter of keeping it going.”
The Chukars have seven players who finished last season in I.F. — pitchers Nick Andros, Brian Bayliss, Arnaldo Hernandez, Drew Milligan and Matt Portland, and infielders Ryan Dale and Brandon Dulin. I.F. was also the last stop for right-hander Sam Lewis, only in 2014.
David Edwards is the lone true rookie on the team. The former Loyola Marymount infileder was signed as a free agent in February.
Fifteen of I.F.’s 27 players were undrafted free agents. The highest draft pick in the group is right-hander Alex Luna, who the Royals took in the 10th round of the 2015 draft.
The Chukars will take the field on Wednesday at 5 p.m. for media day and hold their second team workout at 7 p.m. It is open to the public.
The Chukars face the Bandits at 7:15 p.m. on Thursday and host the Ogden Raptors on Friday at the same time to begin their season. I.F. lost to the Missoula Osprey in the Pioneer League Championship last season.
2016 Chukars opening day roster
LHP Nicholas Andrus
SS Ricky Aracena
RHP Brian Bayliss
LHP Enmanuel Camacho
3B Angelo Castellano
LHP Reinaldo Cepin
3B Ryan Dale
1B Brandon Dulin
2B David Edwards
RHP Igol Feliz
LHP Christian Flecha
C Colton Frabasilio
RHP Jason Freeman
RHP Arnaldo Hernandez
RHP Sam Lewis
RHP Alex Luna
RHP Andres Machado
OF Yeison Melo
LHP Drew Milligan
3B Manny Olloque
LHP Matt Portland
RHP Reid Redman
OF Jose Sanchez
OF Tanner Stanley
C Meibrys Viloria
LHP Cole Way
OF Luke Willis
Correction (6/15): An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated when David Edwards was signed as a free agent. That has been corrected.